Friday, March 13, 2009

Post-Christian United States?

I noticed two stories about religion on Yahoo's news front page on Tuesday, March 10, 2009.

The second one carried the title: Survey sees a drift away from religion in America. That article goes on to discuss the results of the American Religious Self-Identification Survey (ARIS). The first line is 'Christianity's hold on many Americans is slipping, losing out not to other faiths but to "no faith."'

The first article I noticed was in the Opinion section of Yahoo which I often disregard. But I guess it was the headline that grabbed my attention: The Coming Evangelical Collapse by Michael Spencer. Since I am one of the group that self-identifies as evangelical I am always interested in its collapse.

The Yahoo link points to the Yahoo article which is taken from The Christian Science Monitor. That article is a piece from a more extensive post by Michael Spencer on his blog, (Cool name for a blog I thought.)

His blog post is The Coming Evangelical Collapse (as if you could not guess).

I found it to be a thoughtful and easily read piece. It stirred up a lot of interest around the old Internet ending up on The Drudge Report among other high traffic sites.

I liked Spencer's blog so much that I've added it to my own blog roll. I will definitely follow his blog for a while at least.

The ARIS survey is interesting to me for several reasons in addition to the fact that more people identify with no religion. One is that 76% of us identify ourselves as Christian but fewer than 70% of us express belief in a personal God. Some 34% of us describe ourselves as born again which is largely understood to be the same as evangelical.

That born again (or evangelical) group also has the oldest of us comparatively with "old" meaning over 50 years of age. This goes along I suspect with the general aging of our population.

Spencer says that within 10 years evangelicals will be halved in number and that many of the ministries that now exist will cease to function or be changed so drastically as to be unidentifiable. Further he believes that there will be rising anti-Christian intolerance that will be startling in both quantity and quality.

He then proceeds to mention seven (7) reasons he believes this will occur: identification with political conservatism; failure to pass on our beliefs to our offspring; current church structure; inability to withstand secularism; good will become bad and viceversa; lack of confidence in Scripture; and, inability to raise money.

I found the comments on Spencer's blog to be as interesting or more so than his article. I am interested particularly in the comments of those who identify themselves as non-Christians and who have such negative opinions about evangelicals.

I agree with much of Spencer's statements about evangelicals. And I definitely can imagine the results he predicts. Whether they happen or not I have no idea.

But really I think we already are in a post-Christian era in the United States. I say this because even among those who claim to be born again there is such widespread difference of opinion as to make any kind of unity nearly impossible. More importantly I think there is so much ignorance of Scripture that wearing the Christian label really means very little in terms of practice. So while there may still be numerical majority by a significant degree I think in fact we have already reached the place where non-Christian influence is more important in most areas of life.

Clearly the Republican party is disassociating itself from the Christian evangelical community and the Democratic party was never interested in the first place. The RNC chairman, for instance, is publicly pro-choice. The recent decision to fund more experimentation on human stem cells is surely another sign of deteriorating influence. Certainly it seems likely that the evangelical view of marriage will be overturned as well.

It is very interesting to me to contemplate what the United States will look like if we become increasingly non-Christian and more secular.

I suspect there will be more restrictions on the tax status of churches, particularly the evangelical mega-Churches. I think there will eventually be a removal of references to God at nearly every public level including currency and the pledge and nearly all aspects of government.

I would not be surprised that evolution is mandated to be taught exclusively as truth in private schools and home schools as well as public. I think education will be increasingly critical of historical Christian influence. I suspect home schooling will be eventually abolished or so hampered as to make it impractical. I would neither be surprised to see new churches disallowed unless they meet certain standards such as repudiating certain doctrines and embracing others.

Sharing one's faith is likely to be more and more discouraged in all venues and labeled as proselytizing or cultural terrorism.

I think these things are not so far fetched.

There already is emotional persuasion to forgo some Christian ideas. Really it is not so hard to imagine that escalating to physical persuasion as well. And it will be excused I think by pointing to the supposed bad that Christians have inflicted on the advancement of culture.

It is not so easy to tolerate ridicule for whatever reasons. There are plenty of people who view themselves as victims of Christianity that would happily turn the table. In that event there surely will be many who will choose to embrace some other religion, or none, rather than remain. That's especially true as the hostility increases.

So there will probably be fewer and smaller evangelical churches. I wonder what will happen to all the church buildings? I wonder if other religions will modify them for themselves?

If the number of evangelicals is halved there is surely no need for as many big ones as there are now.

I wonder if there will be blatant discrimination in the private workplace and government, too? I wonder if there will be a kind of religious don't ask don't tell policy first?

No, it does not seem that implausible.


Lora said...

Interesting, there are churches that have long prophecied that before Jesus comes there will be wide-spread legal intolerance of Christianity, including martyrdom, much like the Waldensies before the Reformation or the Jews during WWII. Do you see things getting that bad?

Lori1955 said...

I don't forsee us becoming a non-Christian country but I do think we need a spiritual revolution in this country. I think many of the churches have become too big. It seems the focus has turned to making money, gaining power and influencing politics. I think we need to get back to the basics of having a personal relationship with God.

Do you remember the "Jesus movement" of the early 70's? Young people were joining the church in droves(at least in California). I think we need something like that again and I think it is going to happen.

I actually think that Christianity is on the verge of a new growth spurt. We need to become a kinder more tolerant religion. We need to move away from the doctrines that divide us and towards the God who unites us.

flintysooner said...

Hi Lora. I am more inclined to think the evangelical church in the United States will end with a whimper rather than a bang. But I have repeatedly proven that my predictive ability is totally inadequate.

Interesting post as always Lori.

susie mccoll said...

It is funny because I just had a conversation about this with my friend yesterday who is a new believer. She said I was really the only person she could have "spiritual" conversations with and why was that so? I told her that it has really been bothering me lately how many people I know that just don't even THINK about God and His Word. In fact, even most "Christians" I know don't EVER open their Bible. I was just like this about 2 years ago. Now, I read my Bible all the is my "God fuel" as C.S. Lewis put it. It is kind of like exercise for me. I am not going to be in shape if I only work out for 30 minutes a week. It is the daily effort of exercising and making healthy food choices that keeps one "in shape". It is just like this with our walk with God. You can't just go to church and hear a 30 min. message on Sun. AM and expect to be "in shape" spiritually. It is the daily effort of reading the Bible, communicating with God, etc., that keeps you "in shape" spiritually.

Lora said...

Actually, I've never written to you before (I found you at Dave's blog), but if I sound like your friend Lori, that is probably a good thing! And I do agree with Lori that we really need a revival - in our hearts, marriages and families. The "good news" is just not shining in our homes very well sometimes! Too many are bankrupt spiritually, not knowing God is their Source of life. So if our homes are a mess, how in the world do we expect to be "salt" to the earth???

dave said...

I guess I will be a contrarian.
If you ask people about their spiritual life you get a much higher number.
I fear it is "church" that we are unhappy with. Once you get past a dozen members, a church becomes a bureaucracy with all that involves. The scandal in the churches, the less than good lives we christians project leave a bad image. We do not project a very favorable image frequently
Frequently, I am embarrassed to be part of the movement. My christian bona-fides are as solid as any, and I am a believer.
Whether the "church" survives or not is not terribly important to me. It is what is in my head and heart that i think/worry about.

~Betsy said...

In the near future, I can see Christianity being practiced in secrecy. We as a nation have elected a man who frequented a political church. Focus wasn't on religion, the focus was on revolting. "God D*** America!" What do we expect?